Content Drives at the PGA’s Produced by Conference

Story by W. H. Bourne • Photos by W. H. Bourne and Odin Lindblom

The Producers Guild of America (PGA), the non-profit trade group that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media, held their fourth annual Produced By Conference June 9 and 10 at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California.

An intimate and sold-out event, over 1,400 attended the educational program, which covered aspects of producing for film, television and new media industries. Entertainment luminaries such as Christopher Nolan, Peter Berg, Lawrence Gordon, Nina Jacobson, Mark Cuban, Mark Gordon, Shonda Rhimes and Brian Grazer joined more than 100 of Hollywood and digital media’s top producers and business leaders to share their insights, expertise and vision to inspire and inform attendees throughout the two-day conference. Topics covered included global finance and production, distribution, independent film, scripted and reality television, digital content, marketing innovation, visual effects, sustainable green production and much more.

“The definition of ‘producer’ is friend of writer,” said producer Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan, Source Code). “If you can get into a room with a writer that really excites you, then eventually you’ll create something good.”

Brian Grazer and Peter Berg

Brian Grazer (Splash, Da Vinci Code, J. Edgar) and Peter Berg (Hancock, Battleship) talked about the producing challenges of packaging a story and getting the studio to greenlight the production.

“You have to be a closer to penetrate the skin of a studio,” said Grazer. “You have to be a sociopath with the ability to be crazy, be committed, and be connected to the source.”

Distribution was also a hot topic at the conference. Producer Lynette Howell (Blue Valentine, Half Nelson) talked about creative distribution when she couldn’t get a good offer for her festival award-winner On the Ice.

“I wasn’t happy with any of the deals we were offered and I really wanted it to play on the big screen,” she said. “I realized that the only way to do this was to distribute it myself, but I didn’t want to be selling DVDs either. Elisabeth Holm was working for me at the time and she suggested we create a Kickstarter campaign. We used Kickstarter to distribute the DVD (as an incentive for a $25 contribution), while raising $88,000 to four-wall the movie in theaters. It was very successful—so successful that Elisabeth is now head of films at Kickstarter.”

Sarah Green (Tree of Life, Frida) talked about the new start-up Tugg as a way to launch a film or extend the theatrical life of a film.

“Tugg was integral in extending the run of Tree of Life and bringing it to markets where it never had a chance to play. More people are going to see your indie film on a premium channel than on a big screen,” said Green, as she stressed the importance of Tugg and getting more movies seen in theaters. Similar to Paramount’s marketing concept of “demanding” Paranormal Activity, Tugg licenses movies into their library and works with theater owners. An organizer chooses a movie from the library and then works to sell enough tickets to have a screening at their local theater.

At most sessions, the audience asked questions about financing films. Joe Chianese (EP Financial Solutions) led a panel discussion specifically addressing that topic, as he talked about how producers utilize production incentives to subsidize their costs and finance their projects. Louisiana’s incentives were a high point of the discussion. After that session, producers were shopping the vendors on hand, matching up services with tax incentives. Quixote pitched attendees about their expendables store and lighting and grip equipment now available in New Orleans.

Patrick Mulhearn

Raleigh Studios/Celtic Media exec Patrick Mulhearn was on hand to discuss Louisiana’s incentives and studio availability at Raleigh’s Baton Rouge facility.

“We’ve been really busy this year,” said Mulhearn. “Oblivion with Tom Cruise just wrapped, but we still have a few holes in the schedule that we can fill.”

The new media sessions focused less on finance and more on doing. Allen DeBevoise (Machinima), Michelle Phan (, and Chris Hardwick (Nerdist) talked about the freedom of YouTube for producers, as far as getting your work out there quickly, as well as monetizing your work on the Web. Robert Kynci, Global Head of Content Partnerships for Google and YouTube, stressed the accessibility of YouTube. “Just put your content up,” he said. “If you get enough hits, we’ll come looking for you.”

Chris Hardwick was a wealth of information for individuals looking to venture into producing for the Web.

“YouTube thrives at being shared. Create one-offs or a maximum of five episodes before you do more. Then look at the metrics. You need to figure out what’s going to build your brand as a whole,” said Hardwick. “You must think of SEOs when creating titles for your videos and take care in creating thumbnails for your videos; they’re just as important as album covers. Remember that programming is only as long as it needs to be. You need to grab the viewer in the first eight seconds. But in the end, it’s all about story.”

Hardwick’s words seemed to echo the sentiment of most producers.

“Content drives,” said Gordon. “You have to believe in what you’re selling.”

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